Our scripture this morning is Matthew 6:5-18.
When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
I must admit any time I read the Lord’s Prayer in different words than I learned in Sunday School, it makes me pause, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we pray it together in church, I’m sometimes guilty of “babbling on” through the words as Jesus warns us in verse 7. In the spiritual practices He teaches about here, He wants us to be fully engaged – mind, heart and spirit.
He cautions us that praying and fasting are not to be done as a performance for people to see us doing them. If we want applause from people for being religious, we’ve missed the point. Jesus wants us to have a personal conversation with God through our prayer and a renewed focus on God through our fasting, in whatever form we practice it.
All of these are intended to deepen our relationship with God, and through that connection develop a deeper relationship with one another. If it’s just like reading lines from a script, then we are merely play acting our faith. God wants our love for Him and each other to be honest, and by following the path Jesus showed us, we can all live together eternally.
Gracious God, You have given us Your Word in Jesus and through the inspired writings of the faithful. Help us to make our relationships and our scripture studies personal, that we may know and share Your love. Amen.